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Long Time No Eat

June 7, 2010

When I was living on the West Coast it was bagels.  I couldn’t get a good one to save my life.  Although after enough time away from my favorite bagel shop on Long Island I would forget exactly how good a bagel could be.

At that point, I thought the bagels at Manhattan Bagel on Fourth Street in Berkeley were pretty good.  You know, provided you had the wisdom to avoid the blueberry ones.  But all it took was one trip back to the East Coast, and I couldn’t bear to set foot in a Manhattan Bagel for months.

I would like to think my acceptance of these inferior bagels had less to do with my standards falling than it did with my expectations of what could be attained.

This is cogent because recently I went into a new Asian teahouse in Albany and was compelled to order something that I love but haven’t had in a long time.

Under the BBQ Grill section of the menu was a subheading called “Sandwiches”.

Now while this new joint is ostensibly a Chinese establishment, they bill their fare as pan-Asian.  Given the current definition of “pan-Asian” in Albany, I thought there was a fighting chance that the grilled pork sandwich on the menu was actually a legitimate Vietnamese bánh mì.

So I asked, and was told that it was similar, but Chinese.
Skeptical and intrigued I ordered that sandwich.

And it was very much like a bánh mì, just not a terribly good one.  The grilled pork was right; it had a proper Vietnamese flavor profile.  And there were also those sweet and crunchy pickled vegetables that make the sandwich; in this case they were carrots and onion.  But the leafy greens were not cilantro but flat leaf parsley.  And there wasn’t a hot pepper in sight.  That, and the bread was more stale than toasted or crusty.

But I’m embarrassed to say that despite it not being very good, I really enjoyed it.

Much like the bagels that weren’t truly bagels, this sandwich offered a glimpse of the flavors and textures I had been missing.  And yes, it was flawed.  Deeply.  Yes, there were major components that had been omitted.  But it was a pleasant reminder of a brilliant form of sandwich I haven’t had for far too long.

Although I recently heard there is a restaurant selling bánh mì at the Saturday market in Troy and the Sunday market in Schenectady.

I’ve been avoiding the markets and trying to eat through my pantry and freezer as I prepare for the upcoming bounty from my CSA.  But I may need to sneak in a trip just for a sandwich some time soon.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Elyse permalink
    June 7, 2010 9:28 am

    Do the sell Banh Mi at Vans?

  2. June 7, 2010 3:34 pm

    Just a quick note for you if you’re ever in Boston (a fine thing about Albany, it’s close to lots of bigger places) to check out the Ba Le bakery right at the bottom of the stairs from the Fields Corner T-Stop on the Red Line. Fields Corner is an excellent Vietnamese neighborhood and the sandwiches are the real thing.

    Maybe if we had a larger Vietnamese population here in Albany we’d have sandwiches that could hold their heads up in public?

    Parsley on a banh mi…? It’s good to know that, fussy as you are, your heart can overrule your taste buds once in awhile, sir.

  3. June 7, 2010 10:32 pm

    Here is some bahn mi food porn for the profussor:

    I am currently growing my own daikon so I can make the condiment pickles and have at least a resemblance to the real thing in a sandwich made locally, though I doubt I’ll be able to find or recreate anything like the Vietnamese french bread that explodes in a shower of crumbs when you bite into it…

  4. mirdreams permalink
    June 8, 2010 11:04 am

    Next time you find yourself in NYC make your way over to Baohaus in the LES. A little pricey for being a pork bun, but so so worth it.

  5. June 8, 2010 7:20 pm

    My Linh is selling banh mi at the Troy Farmers Market. For some reason I just don’t find the stall all that enticing. I think it has something to do with the banh mi being pre-made and just. sitting there. In the cooler or whatever. All I can imagine is soggy/cold/wet bread, and not crunchy enough veggies. Flashback to the sad looking banh mis available at the asian markets in town.
    I’d be all over it if they were making the sandwiches to order at the market. Now there’s a niche to fill – freshly made banh mi. As it is, it’s just not selling with me, although I do see other people buy them.

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